Jan 20, 2021 2:00 PM

Attorney reports drug distribution charges have increased significantly

Posted Jan 20, 2021 2:00 PM

By AMY RICKER
Great Bend Post

Barton County Attorney Levi Morris presented annual numbers relating to adult and juvenile criminal cases and traffic cases filed by his office to the County Commissioners.      

In 2018, Morris said the Barton County Attorney’s office filed 584 adult criminal cases compared to 476 cases filed in 2019.     

“We filed about 100 criminal cases last year, which was my first year, and as I said last year, that was on purpose. My opinion was that a lot of bad cases get filed, and they chew up a lot of time and a lot of resources. I tried to apply a stricter standard. Suppose we don’t have enough evidence when we’re looking to file, and we know there’s no chance that this will ever win at a jury trial. In that case, we need to consider more investigation, to delay charges, or not file them,” explained Morris.   

In 2020, even with the pandemic, the number of cases filed was almost the same as the prior year, with the total count ending at 492.     

Morris says that while the increase of 16 cases isn’t typically significant in a regular year when it comes to traffic cases, COVID had an enormous impact. In 2018, approximately 1900 traffic cases were filed. In 2019, there were 1800, and in 2020, there was a 17% drop with around 1500 traffic cases filed.     

“I point that out because we see a 17% drop in traffic cases, and we see a status quo in adult criminal cases. Frankly, I think that the adult criminal cases would have been over 500 this year if it weren’t for the fact that I got COVID in December. I had to miss ten business days in the office. We’ve been delayed, we’ve had to send people home for precautionary reasons, and then ultimately, I had to spend two weeks in bed and couldn’t do much more than answer emails. Practically speaking, had we not gotten hit with COVID, we would have filed more than 500 cases.”    

Regarding the number of drug distribution charges, including the conspiracy to commit drug distribution, Morris said that number has increased significantly in the last five years. In 2015, there were 42 charges filed, and in 2016, the number dropped to 27 cases. In 2017, there were 36 charges and 61 in 2018. In 2019, there were 76 distribution cases.     

When he presented last year, Morris had mentioned that he wanted to talk about the possibility of adding a 5th prosecutor at the June budget meeting. But after COVID hit, he didn’t mention it due to budget issues. Morris explained that while the pandemic may still be an issue this year on budgets, he would still like to have the conversation, so it’s not a surprise in 2022.